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The Bells    by Richard Harvell order for
by Richard Harvell
Order:  USA  Can
Crown, 2010 (2010)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

A glorious entertainment and impressive debut for Richard Harvell, The Bells resounds with warmth and humanity as well as operatic drama. In the 18th century, Moses, our hero, is an orphan saved by two monks, who are wonderful opposing characters. Early on, Moses' voice is discovered to be a marvelous instrument, but before Moses figures out how to use his gift to best advantage, he undergoes many adventures, heartaches, and much treachery.

What is truly interesting about this story is how the author makes us understand that Moses' method of learning about the world is through sound. As Moses walks through town, his guidelines are the tap tap of the shoemaker, the thump of soldiers' boots, and the hiss of ladies' gowns inside gaudy palaces. In our own very visual world, this is not something we can easily imagine.

We also learn about how voice, the special sound humans are gifted with, can be developed. At that time it was not uncommon, since boys' soprano voices were highly prized, for them to be castrated so that their voices could be preserved through adulthood. In this story, Moses comes to know a very real castrato, Gaetano Guadagni, who at the height of his career, was adored by all. Guadagni's actions affect Moses both positively and negatively and provide the pivot by which Moses is able to come into his own.

There will be some who find this story to be overly fantastical, but it is such a passionate evocation of what joy and love can mean that it seems rude to dwell on possible flaws. Music lovers, especially opera fans, will love this book. Highly recommended.

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